Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Confirmation Bias

This post inspired me to write about one of my own experiences with confirmation bias.
Approximately eight years ago I worked in a maximum-medium security prison. The inmate demographics were males age 18-28. In addition, we usually got most of the gang members. Well, most of these gang members loved to play rap music on their boxes. In particular, when officers and case workers walked by they loved to play the various “cop killer” songs as a way to send us a message.
Consequently, every time I hear a violent rap song that encourages “cop killing” I chalk it up to an ignorant and violent class of society.
Now fast forward to the graduate history class that I am currently enrolled in. The class is titled Race & Ethnicity. This past Monday our assignment was to listen to various rap songs and view them through a historical lens. Or, as the professor said: “All of the songs and artists in one way or another express a historical consciousness…most importantly, the music represents a vernacular history of the nation. Consider how and why.”
One of the songs I had to listen to is from the NWA’s album titled “Straight out of Compton” and is titled “Fuck tha Police.” In fact, this song may set a record when it comes to using the “F-word”.
So after listening to the song I chalked it up to the gang banger mentality. Unfortunately, in this example, I was suffering from confirmation bias because my beliefs ARE prejudiced when it comes to gang bangers.
During the course of our class discussion the professor informs us of the local historical context of this particular song. When it was written the L.A. police were practicing a “beat first and ask questions later” policy. In fact, in the criminal justice arena there is a concept called “community policing.”
It is safe to say that during this time period the
L.A. police were NOT practicing community policing. So, the various "cop killer" rap songs that come from this era are one of the few ways that an oppressed and marginalized segment of society could express itself. In fact, the professor compared these rap songs to an oral history of what was happening to a particular class of people at a particular point in history. Interestingly, a few years after this song came out L.A. finally came unglued during the L.A. riots. Hindsight is 20/20 but it’s too bad that someone didn’t pay attention to all the warning signs.

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